Unsully founder to join home services startup Handybook as Boston GM

Detailers work on a car for Unsully. (Company-supplied photo.)
Detailers work on a car for Unsully. (Company-supplied photo.)

Joe Nigro, founder of an on-demand car detailing service called Unsully, is joining the home services startup Handybook as its Boston general manager.

The deal is being called an acquisition, but Unsully had just one full-time employee, and Handybook — which focuses on dispatching house cleaners, painters, and handymen — isn’t adding car washes to its menu of services. Terms  aren’t being announced. Nigro had bootstrapped Unsully since leaving Vsnap, a video messaging startup, in 2013.

At different points, Unsully experimented with sending out independent mobile detailing services to clean cars where they were parked, and also with driving vehicles to existing detailing facilities, and then returning them afterward. Price points ranged from $50 to more than $100. (I tried it last December. My car came back looking spiffy, but handing the keys to a guy who showed up on my doorstep was a bit strange.) Nigro says he couldn’t find a formula for generating sufficient demand — or operational efficiencies with Unsully’s independent contractors — to survive beyond the testing phase, especially without outside funding.

Nigro says that his conversations with Handybook initially focused on setting up a partnership that might help promote Unsully to Handybook’s customer base. But that didn’t pan out. (Nigro was introduced to Handybook by one of his Unsully advisors and customers, Bullhorn founder Art Papas.)

Nigro starts with Handybook next week, helping to expand the company’s business in Boston. Nigro says he’s hunting for office space in Boston, and has plans to build a team of five in the short-term.

“Having someone like Joe lead our Boston efforts will allow us to double down on ensuring we have the best supply base, while also thinking strategically around growth and local customer acquisition,” Handybook COO Umang Dua says via e-mail.

Dua and another of Handybook’s founders, Oisin Hanrahan, attended Harvard Business School together. They participated in the Summer@Highland entrepreneurship program in Cambridge, and have since raised a bit more than $15 million in funding. Though Handybook is now headquartered in New York, its backers include Highland Capital Partners and General Catalyst Partners in Cambridge.

It’ll be interesting to watch Handybook’s expansion here in Boston. But I think you have to chalk this one up as an acqui-hire, a phenomenon I wrote about earlier this year in the Globe.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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